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“You are my friend,” Cian admitted, but his emotions were choking him. “You had no right to go against my wishes! What did you do with her? Did you kill her?”

“Of course not. But I would have if I felt that had been necessary. After careful consideration I decided that her influence merely needed to be removed. She would have left anyway. I just moved her along more quickly. ”

Cian hissed through his teeth and flung out one hand. “And why would you do that? Why?”

“Because she is making you weak! She has already brought The Summoner to your city! Do you understand that you are endangering everything we fought for? Everything we created? I can endure Samantha because she is annoying and not a threat, but Amaliya is much more than that. It is not who she is, but what she is. The Summoner's pawn. And despite yourself, my Master, you are already deeply in love with her and what she brings out in you. ”

Cian took in his words, understanding them as truth, but not ready to admit it. “Where is she?”

Roberto's hands gripped the edge of the cement counter top and said in a low voice, “Let her be. Let her go. Return to the way your life was. ”

“I can't,” Cian said in a low voice. “I can't because it wasn't real. I can see that now. I created this illusion to make myself comfortable. I lied to myself that I could recapture what was lost when The Summoner created me and I slaughtered everyone who ever meant anything to me. I've been lying to myself and worst of all, Samantha. ”

“Then let them both go and be who you truly are,” Roberto said in a soft voice.

Cian drew closer to Roberto and his eyes flashed red. “Roberto, you have been at my side nearly one hundred years. If there is anything you should know about me is that I do what I please and what I believe is right. ”

“And sometimes you are wrong. ”

“Where is she?” Cian smashed his fist down on the counter near Roberto's hands and the counter cracked and the edge crumbled.

Slowly, Roberto drew his hands back and pulled himself up even straighter. “You cannot set right what is already wrong. Let her go. Remember that you have won your own battle with The Summoner and let her do the same. ”

“Roberto, I will not ask you again. Where is she?” Cian looked at his old friend with despair and frustration. He could not believe that his own servant would defy him, but yet again, for years, it had only been him and Roberto, struggling to carve out a life for themselves. They had been complimentary partners in crime for almost a century, but it was now obvious that they were at a crossroads.

“San Antonio,” Roberto said finally.

“You dumped her in Santos' territory?” Cian was shocked. “Do you realize what he will do to her?”

“If she's smart, she'll move on before he finds her. ”

“This is Amaliya we are talking about,” Cian snapped, and headed toward his phone.

“Let her go,” Roberto said once more. “Let her go. Or she will ruin you. ”

Cian snatched up the phone and dialed. Pushing his shoulder length hair out of his face, he frowned deeply. His beard and hair were now the same length as when he had died. It never took more than a few days for his appearance to revert.

Santos, the Master Vampire of San Antonio, did not answer his private cellphone. Instead a feisty Mariachi piece played and ended with a loud whoop, then the beep sounded.

“Santos, this is Cian. One of my cabal may be in your city. She's a fledgling and not very clever. I will retrieve her if this is approved by you. Please call me back so we can discuss terms. ”

He hung up and stared at the phone. Resisting the urge to throw it or crush it, he set it down on his desk.

“She'll be the end of you,” Roberto predicted.

“Then so be it,” Cian said.

He turned and walked toward the stairs. He would get ready and wait for Santos to respond. If she was lucky, Amaliya would not be found by Santos' people. But if she was unlucky, he had to be fully fed and ready to heal her.

“Cian,” Robe

rto's voice said from behind him.

Cian turned as he reached the first step and saw Roberto lingering near the dining room table.

“I did it because I love you. ”

“I know,” Cian said softly, and he walked upstairs feeling the heavy, sad weight of Roberto's bitter gaze.